A week when teen artistry takes seed


The Grainstore in Cabinteely Park, Dún Laoghaire, has become a beacon for creative young people who want to form rock bands or art collectives, writes SARA KEATING

IT IS A Wednesday evening in late September, and a small gang of youths has gathered just inside the main gates of Cabinteely Park. The boys have shaved heads, mohawks and mullets; the girls sport blue and purple tresses or long blonde locks tied back in tight ponytails. They move en masse, as teenagers tend to, bodies engaged in the mock-wrestle that passes as flirting when you are 15.

These youths are gathering for a live music session at the Grainstore in Cabinteely Park, the only purpose-built youth arts facility in the country, which was opened in 1998. Inside the modernised granary, there is a palpable buzz as young band members walk through carrying equipment and tuning up guitars. Other teenagers are slouched on couches inside, chatting with Steven Bracken and Shane Mooney, two members of Canvas, the committee of young adults who help to run the facility. Now in their early 20s, the pair have been involved with the Grainstore since they were budding teen musicians. They’d heard about the Grainstore through friends, and came up regularly to rehearse, borrow music equipment and participate in workshops.

“You could just come up and relax, practice or organise gigs,” says Mooney. “The live gigs especially were – are – really important, because that’s how the bands get better and build a base. Most of the people here wouldn’t be able to play in pubs because they are under 18.”

After finishing school, Bracken and Mooney trained as sound engineers, but remained involved in the Grainstore, sharing their expertise with younger musicians as well as providing a full-time recording studio upstairs for their peers to use as at reasonable cost.

“We would be the older crowd now,” says Mooney, “so we teach the younger crowd what we know. It’s a case of passing the torch on, so when we are 25 [the cut-off age for using Grainstore’s facilities] and have to leave, they’ll know what to do.”

Seventeen-year-old Sean Magee of newly-formed band Violent Enigma is one of the Grainstore’s latest proteges. Violent Enigma held their first gig here last month (“There were, like, 50 people. It was great.”), and they are here today to learn how to set up amps for their next gig. “Our drummer doesn’t have his own drums,” laughs Magee, “so there’s also that.” The Grainstore has instruments as well as equipment which the musicians can use.

The gigs don’t just provide practical knowledge and performance experience to the teen bands, however. As Bracken explains, youth members are responsible for “security, tickets sales, stage management; it’s all done by us and other youth members.” There is strictly no alcohol allowed, but, as Mooney explains, “It’s never been an issue since we have been involved. People who come respect the rules, because they are coming to see their friends and they know that if they are messing around they’ll be giving the band a bad name. It’s a mutual respect thing going on.”

Outside in the courtyard, The Kelly Memorial Collective are sitting at a picnic bench discussing ideas for their forthcoming group exhibition at the County Hall, as part of the annual youth arts festival, Stop Look Listen, which is run by Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. The group of six budding artists are students at Newpark Comprehensive, and they first encountered the Grainstore during Transition Year, when their art teacher – the Mr Kelly from whom the group take their name – organised a year-long art project for their class in collaboration with the youth arts centre. Out of doors and in or into the open air will be their third exhibition, which includes a collaboration with an elderly community from Dalkey earlier this year.

Later, they move upstairs with their sketchpads to a long room with tables at one end and several unhinged doors at the other, to explain their idea for the exhibition to me. “The starting point,” explains Alexie Hagon, “was these doors which I found in my neighbour’s skip when they were redoing the house, so we started thinking about the contrast of indoors/outdoors as a theme.”

Aura Jurciukonyte shows me her notebook and Diolmhain Ingram-Roche enumerates the different elements of their planned multimedia pieces. “We are thinking there will be large landscapes like islands in the middle of the hall, and using the doors to frame the paintings. There will be video and sound pieces, coming from TVs arranged in a circle, and these will be about how journeys are part of our daily routines – the commute to work or school – but also something memorable, such as big trips that you go on.”

Michael McLoughlin, an artist and youth arts worker, pokes his head into the room. He is a discreet presence, and, although he is a formative influence and collaborator on the Collective’s latest exhibition, he lets them speak about it in their own words. McLoughlin began working at the Grainstore three years ago, when the primary activity there was music.

“The whole idea is that is youth-led,” he says, though his visual arts background has made itself felt with various one-off projects and with his mentorship of young artists. “You get a mix of people gravitating here, because they know they have a certain amount of freedom to determine their own agenda and there is support there.”

McLoughlin’s role is partly practical and administrative, but for him the most important part of his job is advocacy. “What I want to impress [on the young people], is that it is possible to develop your interests long-term, whether that is art or music.”

Or, indeed, film-making (via the Floating Ape club), theatre (via the newly-resident Sparkplug), or compiling new soundtracks for silent films (via the Radiophonic Workshop). Anyone worried about the youth of today need only look at the range and quality of work assembled by the teenagers at this year’s Stop Look Listen event. The gang of youths at the gate of Cabinteely Park suddenly don’t seem so intimidating.

Stop Look Listen, dlr Youth Arts Festival 2012 runs throughout Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown until Nov 3rd

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